There is an increased emphasis on managing and sharing data produced in research. Many of the research funders supporting work at the University of Cambridge require that research data are openly available with as few restrictions as possible.
Research data management is a complex issue, but done correctly from the start, could save you a lot of time and hassle at the end of the project when preparing your data for a publication or writing up your report, dissertation or thesis. Research data takes many forms, ranging from measurements, numbers and images to documents and publications.
This module aims to help you get started with managing your data by introducing you to key principles around organising, storing, archiving and sharing your data. You will also learn how to create your own Data Management Plan.
The Engineering Library team offer support and training on managing information and data, so feel free to contact us if you have any questions. If you want to book a one-to-one session for personalised support, please use our Booking Form.
We also run synchronous online training workshops on Managing Data throughout the year for students at the Department of Engineering. Our upcoming workshops are:
Completion of the Data Management Plan activity in this module fulfils the requirement for the Data Manager badge and counts towards the Informed Engineer badge.
Badges will be awarded at the end of each Term.
The term ‘data’ can mean a range of things from images to experiment results depending on the nature of your research. However you define data it is important that you learn to manage it well at every stage of the research process. This is particularly true in light of the recent emphasis on sharing data as part of the Open Research practices.
Many research funders now mandate that you share the data underpinning your research, something which is also encouraged by the University Open Data Policy Framework. This helps to both advance wider knowledge as other researchers can build upon your work and help to avoid any research misconduct by allowing results to be checked.
Although data management can seem like a complicated process but getting into good habits early will help you to save time and stress later in your project.
Watch this short video below to get an overview of good data management practices.
If managing your data seems overwhelming, think of your data management strategy as having four main areas: Organising Data, Storage and Backup, Archiving Data and Sharing Data.
However you deal with your data you should keep in mind the FAIR Principles which aim to make information Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. This helps to ensure better access to the vast amounts of research data generated for all. You can read more about the FAIR Principles in this document from LIBER Europe.
Spending time at the start of a project can save a great deal of time at a later stage. There are many different organisational systems available – the important thing is to find one that works for you and your team and to stick with it. Remember that a good organisational strategy will be consistent, meaningful to all and easy to use.
If you have spent time collecting and organising your data you are going to want to jeep it safe. Backing up your data is easily forgotten in the rush to develop new ideas but it’s vital that you do so. You will need to think about how and where you store your data, the amount you include each time and the frequency with which you run backups. As a guide when planning this, you should think about how much data you could stand to lose if the worst happened.
At the end of a project you will need to think about how data will be archived to preserve it for the future. There are a range of options you might want to consider based on the nature of your work and the data collected.
In line with funder mandates and University policy, you should prepare your data for sharing with a wider audience. This helps other researchers to build upon your work and helps to protect you from accusations of misconduct. The reproducibility crisis demonstrates that much of the research data produced cannot be replicated by others, potentially causing issues and leading to the retraction of unsound conclusions which make it through to publication. It is important to consider the ethics of sharing data – especially if you are dealing with any sensitive information. Further help and advice on this is available via the Cambridge Research Data service.
A Data Management Plan (DMP) is a vital document which draws all of these areas together. It is created prior to the start of a project and revisited and updated regularly to ensure it remains current. A DMP helps you to think about all of the different data decisions you need to make and helps to ensure the overall efficiency of a project.
Many research funders now expect to see a DMP before releasing funding and the University also strongly encourages their creation. Watch the short video below from the Betty and Gordon Moore Library team to see an overview of the common areas of a DMP.
Remember that the exact contents of a DMP will depend on your funder so you should always refer to their specific guidance when creating one.
There are many online tools which can help you to build your DMP. One of the most useful of these is DMP Online, a resource provided by the Digital Curation Centre. Once you have registered for a (free) account you will be able to build a DMP tailored to your individual funder which you can then download and use as your final document.
If you would like any feedback on your data management plan – or any other type of support with your data management – you can contact the contact the Engineering Library team.
Building your data management plan can seem daunting but this activity should give you a chance to start thinking about some of the areas you will need to cover.
On the form below, follow the prompts and at the end of the process you will have a basic data management plan which you can adapt to your specific funder requirements and needs.
Completion of the Data Management Plan activity in this module fulfils the requirement for the Information and Data Manager badge and counts towards the Informed Engineer badge. Badges will be awarded at the end of each Term.
For guidance on all aspects of data management, visit Data.cam.ac.uk.
A complete online resource covering Research Data Management (RDM) including FAIR data principles, personal data and Data Management Plans can be found on the Data Management LibGuide.
The Research Skills LibGuide also covers data management among other skills.
If you are working on Text and Data Mining (TDM) see the Text and Data Mining LibGuide.
University and funder policies on data management can be found at: Data policies.
To create your own Data Management Plan, we recommend using DMP Online.
To make your data available openly, deposit it to the University of Cambridge Data Repository.
For information on using Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs), see the University ELN page.
The Engineering Department Data Champions are local experts on research data management and sharing who can provide assistance and support. For information and to contact a Data Champion, see the Engineering Data Champions page.